got any homework?

dadzclub resident child and educational psychologist, Jennifer Wills, talks about the subject of homework

The dreaded H-word.

For a lot of people, homework is a mixed blessing, a double edged sword. On the one hand, helping your child with their homework is a lovely idea: cosy evenings at the dinner table, little Johnny demonstrating his flair for multiplication, Dad lending a hand, imparting wisdom about easy ways to remember the nine times table....and on the other hand, tears, tantrums and total terror. And that’s before you’ve even got the books open.

Nick (not real names), 37, loved school and usually found himself at the top of the class. He was looking forward to his son, Gregory, starting school and had visions of watching him on Prize Day, sweeping the board. His son, however, is seven years old and struggling. “It is literally a battle, every Sunday night, Greg ends up in tears. I start off trying to help and end up shouting. He won’t listen and doesn’t seem to even care about getting it right”. Rob, 42, hated school, never got along with his teachers and failed most of his O levels. He wants to help his daughter with her homework but finds himself frozen, unable to give useful advice on even what he sees at the most basic aspects of schoolwork. “I just hate all that academic stuff. I don’t want to let on to Esmee, as I don’t want her to realise. I like it when she looks up to me. The other part of me wants t tell her not to worry: she’ll be OK with or without school. My wife would kill me if I said that though!” And for Paul, 31, and his wife, just mentioning the H-word is enough to send their children running for the PS3. “It’s awful. Both of them are fine once they get started….but getting them started is impossible!”

Like tax, homework is inevitable. And it’s (usually) important. Not only will your child’s school work improve if they enhance their learning at home, but homework can also be a great tool to develop motivation, self-discipline and self-esteem. Here are my tips to reduce the pain .

Create a decent space to work in. Some families are lucky in that they may have a study or a home office. Others may have a lovely big dining table. Those of us with less space at home have to get more creative (a fold-away patio table?) but it is vital that your child has a quiet, comfortable space to do their homework. No one can work well whilst sprawled on the floor with the TV blaring, let alone a child.

Develop a routine. Establish a set time each week for homework from as early on as possible: If your child is used to sitting down at the same time each week to work, you’ll encounter fewer protests about getting started. (And try not to make it Sunday evening!). Sit with your child and do some homework of your own while they do theirs. Whether you are catching up on work, making to-do lists or writing letters, it is good for your child to feel you are all in it together. Snacks help. If you also have a younger child who doesn’t get homework, have a stack of colouring sheets or early learning worksheets for them to do too. If school sets homework only irregularly, think up your own interesting things to do at the regular time so you can maintain the routine and establish a pattern for the future. Oh, and do something else fun together afterwards.

Be supportive. Sometimes, your child can get on with their homework independently. Other times, they need you there. It can be difficult to refrain from ‘doing it for them’ but remember that you will boost their confidence if you can help them to do it themselves. Before they get going, ask them about the task and see if they know the ‘learning objective’. You can ask them about the lesson they had and see what they can tell you. Often, primary school lessons have a strong practical component which can serve as a great memory-jogger if they can describe that to you. After that, check they know what they need to do to get started, ask them how they will know when they have finished and ask them if there is any way you can help. Find specific things to praise (Neat handwriting? Good vocabulary? Working hard?) and make sure you coo over the finished product.

It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect. From a schooling perspective, homework is valuable. Not only does it help your child practice what they have learnt in school thereby helping them remember it, it also functions as a barometer for the teacher of how much learning has been understood and retained. If your child is struggling with their homework, then teacher needs to know. Don’t be afraid to write in your child’s home-school book that he or she tried their best but couldn’t do it. It’s not your fault and it’s certainly not your child’s fault. They either need different teaching in class or different homework. And that’s OK.

Get help from school. Lots of parents have specific difficulties (spelling, maths, reading) which can make it pretty hard to be confident in helping their child. Added to that, teaching styles and curriculum have often changed  since we were at school meaning that the rules and methodologies you know are met with blank looks from your 21st century schoolchild.  It’s always OK to ask your child’s teacher to give some more detailed instructions about the homework if it means you can support your child more effectively. Many schools nowadays offer links to adult learning opportunities too, if you really want to brush up on your skills.

Be positive. It’s OK for your children to realise you found aspects of school difficult, especially if you can show them that you’ve come out the other side. It’s good to talk positively rather than fatalistically about school work (e.g. “I always had to try harder with spellings because I found them confusing” rather than “I’m rubbish at spelling”.) It’s also good to acknowledge that everyone has strengths and difficulties: Getting low marks in Maths doesn’t override being awesome at Art.

You can get in touch with Jennifer Wills (via dadzclub) if you have any specific questions here

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